Facebook as Evidence?

By his own account, Hofstra University student Alex Rexha uses Facebook "too much."

The thought of anyone gaining access to his personal postings is unthinkable.

"That's supposed to be private," said Rexha. "That's why there are privacy rules on Facebook -- so you can decide who sees your profile and who does not."

In the case of a Suffolk County mother of two, however, the rules are changing.

Kathleen Romano is suing an office chair manufacturer, Steelcase Inc. She claims to have been injured seven years ago after her chair collapsed while performing clerical duties at Stony Brook University Medical Center.

According to her lawyer, Robert Kelner, Romano's injuries were so severe she has not worked since 2003 and has been mainly restricted to her home. In addition, Kelner said his client has undergone four spinal surgeries, has had screws and rods implanted in her neck and has endured $200,000 in medical expenses.

But Steelcase's lawyers apparently believe Romano's social media postings tell a different story.

According to court documents, defense lawyers have claimed the public portions of Romano's MySpace and Facebook sites portray woman who has traveled and is happy.

In response to a Steelcase request, Acting State Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Spinner has ruled that the chair company can have access to all Romano's postings on Facebook and MySpace.

It's believed to be the first ruling of its kind in New York.

"The information sought by the defendant... is both material and necessary to the defense of this case," wrote Judge Spinner.

"Plaintiffs who place their physical condition in controversy may not shield from disclosure material which is necessary to the defense of the action," the judge added.

Steelcase's lawyer didn't return a call for comment.

Kelner called the ruling "akin to sneaking into someone's bedroom."

"This to me is an invasion of privacy," Kelner said. "Big Brother is watching and we think this is wrong."

Kelner is planning an appeal and claimed the ruling could have a "chilling effect" on social media communications.

Hofstra University media studies professor, Dr. Paul Mihailidis, wouldn't go that far; but, instead said the case underscored the lesson that social media users need to be careful what they post.

"Think before you speak and think before you post," said Mihailidis. "These social media can be viral and fast and they are very public."

And if a public portion of your postings provide "cause" in a legal fight, Mihailidis said he could understand why the judge would allow access to private postings as well.

Alex Rexha, however, is one who hopes the ruling will be reversed.

"What you post on Facebook should remain private," he said.

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